By Bob Quarteroni
Being thin may not be all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it might be seriously damaging to your health.
The thin being referred to here doesn’t refer to body weight but to what’s happening in your brain due to our national disease, American Morbus: Sitting for long stretches, millions upon millions of inert meat packages, pudding pops from coast to coast.
A new study links sitting too much with not only the old litany of heart disease, obesity, et. al, but with actual physical changes in the brain.
Researchers from UCLA found that sedentary behaviors– like couch potato TV viewing or sitting at work all day — were linked to changes in a part of the adult brain that’s critical for memory.
Specifically, sedentary behavior was linked to thinning of the medial temporal lobe, a brain region involved in the formation of new memories.
According to LiveScience.com, “Brain thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-age and older adults.”
The study included 35 people between the ages of 45 and 75. The researchers scanned the participants’ brains and got a detailed look at their medial temporal lobes.
According to LiveScience.com, “The results showed that sitting for extended periods of time was closely associated with thinning in the medial temporal lobe, regardless of one’s physical activity level.
“In other words, the study suggests that ‘sedentary behavior is a significant predictor of thinning of the [medial temporal lobe] and that physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods,’ the researchers said in a statement.”
Being sedentary is such a part of our blubbery landscape that a name for this behavior has been coined, “sitting disease.”
According to JustStand.org (it speaks volumes that there’s a need for a site devoted to the basic human act of standing up) it is “a term coined by the scientific community, commonly used when referring to metabolic syndrome and the ill-effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle.”
Or, as we in the non-scientific community call it: being lazier than your average senile pig.
This stat absolutely floored me: According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, every hour of television watched may reduce lifespan by an average of 21.8 minutes. Smoking of a cigarette reduces lifespan about 11 minutes.
That’s why sitting – being sedentary – was reviled as “the new smoking” in 2010.
“Excessive sitting is a lethal activity,” Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine memorably told The New York Times. Yikes,” said a Fortune magazine article.
A 2013 survey commissioned by Ergotron, a global furniture manufacturer, found that “nearly 70 percent of full time American workers hate sitting, yet 86 percent do it all day, every day. When they do get up, more than half (56 percent) use getting food as an excuse…. In total, Americans are sitting an average of 13 hours a day and sleeping an average of 8 hours resulting in a sedentary lifestyle of around 21 hours a day,” according to PRNewswire.
It’s hard for me to believe. Maybe it will sound like bragging – hell it probably is bragging — but I’m 70 and a few days ago I broke my generic Fitbit record for a day with more than 21,000 steps, or 9.3 miles for the day.
And it was just a regular — if busy — day: Almost two miles on the device before ever leaving home, workout at the Y, doggie duty, going in the woods to dig up some periwinkle for ground cover, an hour and a half along the Susquehanna taking nature photos, cut the grass and some yard work.
And I ran out of light or I could have kept going.
It is true that I am and have always been as fidgety as a light bulb about to blow, so movement is my standard occupation, but I just want to point out that sitting so long, except for work and church and such is a chosen activity. People choose to be slugs and sit and do nothing.
I make conscious choices to not bing watch a television series or idle hours away on inane video games (I’ve never even seen a video game) or just sitting, snack bags at hand, doing nothing, a potted plant with a remote.
But, obviously, many don’t
It’s all about choices. Even at work you can do simple things like setting an alarm to go off every hour so you can get up and move about a bit, or install a standing desk, if allowed, or just go and stand by a sunny window to read a report for five or ten minutes.
I’m not going to trot out the usual suspects for this sitting madness, the same ones responsible for our lack of time spent in nature and our growing national waistlines. We all know them by heart, starting with our unholy dance with all things electronic.
But sitting is a choice. Five straight hours watching television is a choice. Endless hours of video games is a choice.
People choose themselves into obesity, thinned brain segments, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, diabetes, high blood pressure and all the other nasty things the unmoved visit upon themselves.
So I don’t feel sorry for them I don’t accept lame excuses for not engaging in the simplest of all acts: standing and moving.
I do feel sorry for our nation and the price we have to pay – in medical bills, lost work productivity and the horrendous example to future generations being exhibited by the couch afflicted.
The answer is simple: We’re not asking people to get up and run a marathon, just get off your duffs for at least a few minutes at least a few times a day. That’s not exactly being asked to scale Everest, is it
Take a stand and start standing, that’s all you need to do.
Bob Quarteroni, a frequent PennLive Opinion contributor, is a former columnist and editor at the Centre Daily Times. He lives in Swoyersville, Pa. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.